Want an experiment? Type the words…

“Should Be”
“Super Bowl”

…into a Twitter search and see what comes up https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=steelers%2C%20should%20be%2C%20super%20bowl The results are magnificent. The wave of justifications, assumptions, and leaps of faith will wash over you like a tsunami.

Yes, in the wake of the AFC Championship game many Steeler fans are trying to self medicate their heavy case of the Super Bowl blues with a healthy dose illogical presumption.

-Well, if the Steelers hadn’t been so injured…they’d be in the Super Bowl.

-If Fitz Toussaint didn’t fumble…the Steelers would have been in the Super Bowl.

-Look at New England’s offensive line. If the Steelers had played them instead of Denver, they would have won too.

Not so fast keyboard cowboys.

I love the optimistic sentiment. And there is nothing like taking stock in a good ole’ fashioned hypothetical presumption that can’t be disproven to warm the cockles of a disappointed sports fan’s heart.

But let’s face it, if we want to be objective, nothing that was displayed Sunday in Denver suggests the Steelers would have beaten New England if given the chance.

Let’s establish a very important fact first. If Pittsburgh had managed to upset the Broncos two weeks ago, they would have had to travel TO NEW ENGLAND for the AFC title game. And Pittsburgh has never beaten the Patriots in Foxborough with Tom Brady at quarterback.


We didn’t exactly see either team light up the scoreboard in Denver Sunday. But the defenses were both good. And the Patriot offense would have been much more in sync without having to deal with the road crowd noise. And, like the Steelers have been every time they go to Denver (despite Mike Tomlin’s empty protests to the contrary), I’m sure the altitude was more an issue for New England than it was for the Broncos.

Furthermore, what was the biggest reason why Denver beat New England Sunday? They harassed Tom Brady for sixty full minutes. He was hit 20 times. I’m willing to bet the Steelers haven’t totaled 20 hits on Brady in every game they’ve played in Foxborough combined.
Say what you want about James Harrison’s strong finish to the season. Pittsburgh’s rotating group of four OLBs can’t hold a candle to DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Harrison in his prime paired with LaMarr Woodley in his prime probably could. And so could Joey Porter and Jason Gildon in their heyday. But those pairs never affected Brady in New England the way Ware and Miller did Sunday in Denver.

Beyond just the OLBs, Pittsburgh’s collective pass rush isn’t what Denver’s is. Sure, the Steelers were only four sacks off Denver’s pace for the league lead (52-48). However, Pittsburgh’s ability to sack the passer was inconsistent. Forty-seven percent of the team’s sack total came in just four games against non playoff teams. The defense tallied almost half its sacks (23-of-48) against SF, IND, & CLE twice.

And Brady only was sacked for negative yardage vs Pittsburgh in game one this year one time (he was brought down for 0 yards on a scramble by Bud Dupree as well which technically counted as a second sack). He was brought down seven times in two games by the Broncos.

Then there is the secondary. Yes, both the coverage units of Pittsburgh and Denver were tortured by Rob Gronkowski. But who isn’t?! The stud tight end totaled 19 catches for 326 yards and five touchdowns in three games against the Broncos and Steelers this year. The difference is that while allowing Gronk to have a big day Sunday, Denver did manage to limit Julian Edelman. Against Pittsburgh, Brady completed 11-14 to Edelman for 97 yards. In the AFC title game, Edelman only caught seven passes on 13 targets for 53 yards.

Also on Sunday, Denver took away the running back as a Brady pass option. He targeted James White 16 times and only completed five passes for 45 yards. The QB was 4-of-5 for 51 yards when throwing to Dion Lewis in week 1. Granted, is White as good as Lewis? No. But ten more incompletions in one game to a given target suggests credit should be given to the defense as much as blame should be put on the reserve player.

If you’ve talked yourself into believing that this was finally going to be the year Pittsburgh won in New england and beat the Patriots in the playoffs….good for you. You’ve got a greater ability to ignore reality than I do. That can come in handy in life.

If you are of the opinion that the Black and Gold was a mere fumble from a fifth string running back removed from making travel plans to San Francisco…and that those pesky 60 minutes in Massachusetts were just a formality, awesome! Do what you do!


But instead of trying to convince yourself of a fairy land equation that could never be proven, maybe it’s better to just look ahead to next year when the Steelers may actually be better equipped to take another step.

Or, simply be happy that the Steelers got as far they likely deserved to go?

Posted in Pittsburgh Steelers